Yesterday I mentioned the Left Banke in my brief discussion of bands who inspired progressive rock. Today, I not only want to explore this statement a little further, but also I want to share some excellent news. Let’s begin with some history of one of the pioneers of progressive rock.
Baroque Pop hit its mainstream success in the latter-half of the 1960s and bands like The Beatles, The Zombies and The Beach Boys sampled its fusion of pop and classical music. But one of the originators of this style of music, The Left Banke, also played it like no other. The genre in itself demarcated a different style of music that would become increasingly popular after the psychedelic movement met its mainstream end.
Progressive rock, a genre of music defined by (as I said yesterday) “creative arrangements, unusual blends of genres (like Jazz/Rock), eclectic (almost baroque) instrumentation, and classical constructions,” was clearly engendered by the promotion of baroque pop (among other things), and when The Left Banke, a band formed in New York in 1965, released “Walk Away Renee,” but more so “Pretty Ballerina” in 1966, a true pre-prog-rock staple was introduced.
The Left Banke’s founding roster included Michael Brown (keyboard, songwriter), George Cameron (guitarist), Tom Finn (bass), Warren David-Schierhorst (drums), and vocalist Steve Martin Caro. After some initial recordings David-Schierhorst was removed, Cameron switched to drums, and Jeff Winfield was brought in to play guitar.
“Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina” were released in 1966 in July and December, respectively. The song was written by Michael Brown (who was 16 at the time, by the way), and was written about Tom Finn’s girlfriend, who Brown was enamored with. Good thing for all. See “Layla” for another ‘I want your girl’ song that turned out to be successful. It was a huge success. It spent 13 weeks on the charts with a top spot at #5 and several artists have covered it.
We will talk about “Pretty Ballerina” in a second. Why did The Left Banke not go on to achieve tremendous success. Well, first off, I think their music would have succeeded more in the later 1960s and early 1970s. They were bellwethers and sometimes those individuals who lead get ultimately forgotten. Also, there were some serious internal issues that ripped apart the band. Brown recorded a single without the band while using the band’s name The Left Banke. He used session musicians with Bert Sommer on lead vocals. The band legitimately split into two Left Banke’s. The radio stations were confused and pulled the song. In 1967 the band reunited and recorded some more material, but, Brown left the band soon after. The band (Cameron, Martin, Finn) moved on, brought in Emmett Lake, and recorded their second LP (some songs featured a young Steven Tyler doing background vocals).
This, my friends, is “Pretty Ballerina,” a song written by Brown, sung by Martin, and is also about Finn’s girlfriend. Man, this young dude was obsessed. Talented guy obsessed with a girl. Heard it before and will hear it again.
First off, it is clearly of baroque sentiments. The strung-out strings, rhythmic keyboard, and orchestral core (with Oboe!) help make this song what it is. It is beautiful. It is subtle, simple, and Martin’s voice is ethereal and heavenly. But there is something else in this song below the surface. While it is superficially happy, I always feel weird listening to the song. Its short length, repetitiveness, and dream-like quality, almost suggest something oddly dark in it. It’s just a strange feeling and I get that it may be sparked by the esoteric nature of the song. It is my favorite from the band and one that still is original and independent today.
Now for the Good News:
George Cameron and Tom Finn reunited for two shows at Joe’s Pub in New York City in March of 2011 and have announced that they have reformed the group. The group consists of Cameron, Finn, and other musicians. How cool!. They will be performing at BB Kings Bar and Grill in NY on April 29. They will then perform two shows in Maryland (Rockville – Parilla Performing Arts Center on May 5, and Annapolis – Rams Head on Stage on May 6.)
Considering my location (NY), I will be attending the BB Kings show and I’m exciting to see two 60s legends perform on stage. If you plan on attending the show, let me know, and we will share some drinks and enjoy some quality music.
Check out The Left Banke’s official website for information on the band and the shows: www.leftbankeband.com